Piles of beans, pulses, grains and nuts

A month into 2022, who else is struggling with some of the goals they’ve set themselves?

I’ve realised I’m never destined to be a marathon runner, but that’s okay as long as I keep taking steps in the right direction. Many of us use the passing of another year as a kick to start eating better.

It’s easy to get pulled into the new diet trends or whatever has been named the ‘superfood’ du jour. But here’s the secret, if your diet has a name, it probably won’t work. And ‘superfoods’… they don’t exist.

If the changes we’re trying to make are too difficult, or time consuming or costly, we’re never going to stick to them. Sadly, there’s no quick fix to keeping a healthy weight, and there are lots of things in the world we live in that can make it difficult, but there are some easy wins to be made.

From ‘superfoods’ to helpful heroes

Blueberries, beetroot, kale, kefir, ginger … the list goes on.

Despite persistent headlines about miracle foods, there’s really no such thing.

A healthy diet is made up of a balance of different food groups. When it comes to diet and cancer, it’s not about eating lots of one food or avoiding one completely but building a good pattern over time of what we eat every day.

While the label ‘superfood’ is little more than a marketing ploy, there are everyday heroes in our diets. They might not be fancy, they might not wear a cape or have a premium price at the health store, but working them into our meals with simple swaps can have great benefits for our health.

One such hero is the humble bean.

Finger on the pulse

We’re not just talking about baked beans as a side with your takeaway or part of your breakfast, there’s a wonderful world of beans out there ready to be the main dish. You’ve got black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, the list goes on.

Beans are a type of pulse which are part of the legume family. Other pulses include lentils and chickpeas which are also great sources of protein and fibre, and low in fat.

One of the biggest sources of dietary protein is meat and fish. While it can make up an important part of the diet, too much processed and red meat increases the risk of developing bowel cancer.

If you’re eating a lot of processed meat, you can swap to fresh chicken or fish, or wonderful beans and pulses. It’s a win-win! You’re cutting down on processed meat and fat, and upping your fibre at the same time. Having a diet that’s high in fibre has lots of health benefits including reducing the risk of cancer.

Keep it easy peasy

There are so many great things about cooking with beans and pulses. moving to a more plant-based diet can help fight climate change.

Pulses come tinned or dried so they’re easy to store and you don’t need to worry about using them up quickly before they go off, they’re cheaper than most meat products and they’re super easy to fit into your diet with a few simple swaps.

One easy meal to cook up for family and friends is a big pot of bean chilli. It’s a comforting mix of black beans and kidney beans, along with onions, garlic, chillies, plenty of paprika and cayenne pepper, sweetcorn, sweet peppers and a tin of tomatoes.

Bean stew is a great meal to make in a hurry. You can use whatever beans might be lurking in your cupboard and whatever veggies are in the fridge, with tin of tomatoes and lots of garlic. Use seasoning to make it your own, as smoky or spicy as you like.

Top swaps:

  • Bolognese: Ditch all or half the mince for lentils. Most varieties work. Dried red lentils are a great staple or, if you’re in a rush, tinned green lentils work just as well. Try adding a small amount of marmite if you’re missing that savoury flavour from meat.
  • Chilli: As well as adding more beans to your chilli, a sneaky tip to bulk up mince dishes is to grate in a carrot or two. It soaks up all the flavour, makes your meal go further and you’ve hidden some extra veggies in dinner for fussy kids!
  • Curries and stews: Chickpeas are a great addition in curries and stews or as the main event instead of meat.

So stock up your cupboards with beans glorious beans, and don’t forget, food is to be enjoyed so try a few different swaps and keep the ones that work for you.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2022, it’s bean wonderful telling you about pulses.

Karis Betts is a health information manager at Cancer Research UK

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